Network Conference 2023: Forms of Ecological Knowledge
From the 14th to 16th of July 2023, the first public conference of our network will take place under the topic “Forms of Ecological Knowledge. DFG Network “Russian Ecospheres”. It will take place at the Ludwig Maximilian Universität in Munich.
Our network members will meet in a public conference lasting several days, in which they will present their results and progress in the various working groups and workshops.
The 2023 Russian Ecospheres Network Annual Meeting invites contributions on forms of ecological knowledge in Russia. It asks for textual, discursive, social and political modes of generating, ordering and organizing ecological knowledge. Drawing on the recent resurgence of thinking about form in theory and on historical understandings of form in the natural and social sciences as well as cultural studies, it looks for distinct Russian approaches to form and aims to locate them globally. It is interested in contributions to the conceptual history of ecological form in the Russian and Soviet empire as well as in empirical studies related to the subject.
Our conference in the context of current discourses
We assume that a dialogue about form across disciplines can help to establish a more nuanced notion of “ecological form” (Hensley, Steer). To open up the space for our disparate disciplinary approaches (literary and cultural studies, environmental history, history of science) and transdisciplinary dialogue, we chose an open, multi-angled concept of form. Such an understanding grasps forms as assemblages and configurations of ordering knowledge, characterized by recurrent and shifting patterns and materialized in distinct communicative and institutional forms of organization and genre.
Regarding anticipations of ecological form in Russian and Soviet theory, an ecocritical reassessment of Russian formalism could be a promising starting point to ask how processes of ecological and cultural transformation do influence each other:
Building on Levine’s formal theory of form, this conference asks how forms constrain, differ, overlap, intersect, travel and do political and epistemological work across time and space. In dialogue with case studies form various research contexts (linguistics, genre theory, realism, materialist aesthetics, semiotics of culture, cultural history, kulturologija, philosophy, ethics, theology, anthropology and ethnography, conceptual history, history of science, Umweltgeschichte [environmental history]), we ask for the “affordances of form” (Levine), taking into account the materiality of form, its appropriation by actors in the field and its variation in distinct settings.
From our members:
Traveling Concepts Between Science and Literary Theory
- Philipp Kohl: The Substrata of Form: Paleontological Thought in Soviet Literary Theory in the 1930s
- Elena Fratto: Food, Environment, and Recycling: The Revolution as Metabolic Activity
- Mika Perkiömäki: Forms of ecological narratives in media representations of the Chernobyl and Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plants during Russia’s war on Ukraine
- Timm Schönfelder: Narrating the Hunt. Trajectories of Venatic Knowledge towards the Fin de Siècle
- Mieka Erley: Against Entropy: Soviet Practices of Closure in Ecology and Narrative
Forms of Political Ecology
- Andy Bruno: Forms of Growth in Soviet Socialism: Reconsidering Productivism in Light of Scholarship on Degrowth
- Tatjana Petzer: Autotrophy. An Alimentary Form of Social and Literary Ecology
Reconsidering Vernacular Knowledge
- Clemens Günther: The Form of Feeling: Presentiments in Science and Literature
- Colleen McQuillen: The putevoi ocherk as a tool of epistemological colonization in late 19th C.
- Georgy Levit: On the facets of ecological method: Ernst Haeckel and Nikolai Mikloucho-Maclay
If you would like to subscribe to the Russian Ecospheres mailing list for updates, feel free to register here:
Call for Papers: Conference on Hydro-poetics
The Department of Slavic and Hungarian Studies at the Humboldt University in Berlin invited paper proposals for a conference on “Hydro-poetics: an Ecocritical Perspective on Eastern European Arts (1960s-1990s)”.
The conference, coordinated by Russian Ecospheres member Susanne Frank, will be held in Berlin from the 5th till 7th of October 2023.
Water as a cultural phenomenon
Water is our most precious resource but also an element of culture historically charged with diverse meanings and values. The Bible, the Qur’an, and other ancient scriptures, just like modern scientific theories, regard water as the source of all life, as that element which preceded the creation of the earth. Water is a life principle, but also a force of destruction through drought and flood, a potential instrument of erasure and obliteration of landscapes and places of culture. Whether through natural phenomena or by the hand of humanity, sunken vessels, and ancient as well as modern cities are archived and preserved at the bottom of lakes and on the ocean floor. Water is crucial in processes of cleaning, and yet it is becoming a global storage of waste and pollution.
In text and image, water circulates as a quintessential metaphor of change, linked with gestation, birth, and death. Its mirroring capacity, as in the ancient myth of Narcissus, invites figurations of duplicity, visionary sights, and hypnotic effects. Water fluidity conjoins with issues of time and transience (Heraclitus); with memory, translating into motifs of forgetting and forgiving. Water structures the Earth’s surface (oceans), connects and divides (watershed) and delimits (continents). It is used to draw boundaries (left bank vs. right bank).
In human history, water has played a central role as an inter-connecting medium as well as an ill-used material substance: a conduit of travel and war, an instigator of settlements and resettlements, and an energy resource depleted by political, industrial, and economic pursuits.
Motivation for the congress
Our urge to study water as a cultural phenomenon is driven by the current ecological crisis related to the quality and availability of water. Through the symbolic realms of philosophy, literature, film, and visual arts, which reveal the polyvalence of meanings attributed to water, we strive to understand its cultural history. Every culture’s tradition engenders their own symbolic and archetypal meanings in images of water, stemming from place-specific hopes and anxieties, from language, and from shared cultural preconceptions.
The geo-cultural focus of the conference responds to the growing interest in ecocritical interpretations of Eastern European arts in research and scholarship as well as in artistic practices. While ecocritical perspectives on arts originated in Western literary theory of the early 1970s, in the region of Eastern Europe ecocriticism as a method of interpreting and understanding culture was scarce until late 1990s (in contrast to environmental history). Nonetheless, the artistic practice of the late-socialist era holds an immense corpus of works by artists who deal with issues of nature, water (and ecology) as their essential theme.
Reconsidering Eastern European arts from an ecocritical perspective means returning agency to these diverse practices of environmental art and activism. The conference intends to further the discussion around environmental engagement of Eastern European arts in critical terms derived from the specific histories of environmentalism across the socialist states of Eastern Europe, rather than those defined by the Western-centric understanding of environmental art histories. At the same time, through invigorating the aqueous aspect of cultural theory, it is our aim to enhance recognition of water’s critical presence in all spheres of our lives and encourage sustainable eco-political practice.
Preliminary contents of the conference
Possible topics for individual presentations, that were sent in paper to the coordinators till the 31st of January, and that will be reviewed and selected until the 31st of March include
- artworks addressing transformations in the environment and exhibiting growing awareness of the ecological crisis,
- water and power: politics and energy,
- organized nature/ taming of water: reflections on invasion of the natural habitat by built environments (e.g. state-controlled hydro-engineering plans such as power plants, canal, and dam building; but also aqueducts, drainage and irrigation systems, artificial ponds, etc.) and the changing relationship between humans and nature,
- ideologization of hydrological landscape/hydrosphere in Cold War context,
- aquatic imagery, language, and symbols; figurations of ephemerality, fluidity, purification, and shapeshifting,
- hydrotext in late- and post-socialist century prose fiction,
- visual arts, cinema, animation,
- video installations, artificial immersive environments, land art, site-specific environmental installations,
- materiality of water: sounds, textures, surfaces,
- socio-cultural identities and narratives of rivers, seas, and other water bodies,
- environmental conceptualism,
- meteorological metaphors,
- environmental approaches between science and art/art as science.
Furter questions or interested in taking part?
and subscribe to be updated about incoming news about the conference via
Annual ASEEES Convention
From the 10th to 13th of November, the second part of the annual “ASEEES” Convention takes part in Chicago.
Here, the international forum for Slavic, East European & Eurasian Studies makes a broad exchange of infromation and ideas possible. By that, further work and intelectual vitality in these fields is engaged and sustained.
“The 2022 ASEEES convention invites discussion of the experiences associated with precarity in Eastern Europe and Eurasia as well as in the academic institutions that employ us to study the region.
Primarily associated with unstable, exclusive, and increasingly uncertain working conditions together with the collective cultural and individual psychological experiences that result, precarity, has become a factor on nearly every aspect of life on our planet.
While the effects of precarity are highly diverse, they have a profound impact, beyond the realms of work, on our environment, health care, mobility, social hierarchies of inclusion and exclusion, and the politics and economy of cultural production, among others.
Changes in the global economy have made precarity especially visible in the present, but these are phenomena with long histories and long-evolving cultures. The peoples of Eastern Europe and Eurasia have created and responded to those threats in important, diverse, and instructive ways, in both the past and the present.”– ASEEES Commitee
Fields of Discourse and Interdisciplinarity
- Anthropology/Cultural Studies
- Early Slavic, East European and Eurasian studies until 1800
- Economic History
- Geography/Urban studies
- History: Central and Southeast Europe
- History: Russian and Eurasian
- Literature: Central and Southeast Europe
- Literature: Russian and Eurasian
Discussion Rounds relating to Russian Ecospheres
Over the days of the convention, several panels and workshops are held, where recent publications are discussed. Relating to the topics of our network, members of our networks and other scientists of the serval fields regarding topics around ecology present their papers and take part in the panels and discussion rounds.
You can find a detailed programme with topics of interest and your personalised search by people, topics and organisation via ASEES interactive program:
Relating to our topics within the network, basic theoretical frameworks such as the Noosphere-approach and its 100 years of history are discussed, taken into context and adapted to different fields. Russian Ecospheres’ member Andy Bruno‘s Paper about Environmental Imaginaries is discussed under the topic of Post Soviet Environmental Futures with questions about how to live in zones of catastrophe and areas of environmental transformations and how current environmental governance of the state react shape the topics about nationalist history, sovereignity and developement.
Panels take place about Ecociriticism, with discussing the heritage of Anton Chekhov and its naturalist tradition. Keywords such as biodiversity, deforetation and pollution are discussed and redefined. Mieka Erley, another member of our network, coordinates a panel about Ecocriticism and Russian Literature, considering negative consequences of environmental degradation and the disturbance of human-nature relations. To do so, she takes into account papers of Russian Ecosphere Members such as Philipp Kohls paper about Ecocritique of the Tarto-Moscow Semiotic-School and Coleen McQuillens paper about the Deforestation and Degeneration in the Urals.
The ecological lense is widened, for example by shedding light on the historical context of activism in post soviet cinema, its correlation to culture and heritage, and on key elements in commemoration and education of era defining contexts such as the Chernobyl catastrophe, its depiction and its aftermaths.
Take part in the discussions and register for the plural forms of interdisciplinary exchange via the ASEEES webiste:
Workshop: Noosphere – Ecosphere – Semiosphere
Together with Julia Lajus, professor at LMU Leipzig, our network member Julia Herzberg organized the workshop
“Noosphere – Ecosphere – Semiosphere: Explorations into Environmental Thoughts”
It took place in cooperation with the Rachel Carson Center in Munich,
on October 6th 2022.
The workshop addresses the current interest in conceptualizing the ongoing geological period of the history of Earth, making the discussions relevant to the current debate on environmental governance and governance in general.
The Anthropocene demands a deeper look into the predecessors of such thinking, and the Russian-Ukrainian and Soviet geochemist Vladimir Vernadskii, who named humankind “a geological force,” is undoubtedly among them.
Vernadskii’s legacy was adapted to a broader context of ecological thought in Russia and beyond, focusing on his ideas on Noosphere as a new state of biosphere, “a sphere of reason.” Its concept was compared to related research and the causes of the weak state of planetary thinking in contemporary Russia were discussed.
As part of this, Russian Ecospheres’ member and coordinator Philipp Kohl gave a talk on Lotman’s semiosphere.
Working group: Anthology
Members of the Russian Ecospheres network currently prepare an “Anthology of Russian Ecological Thought“.
They attempt comprising translations of critical primary and secondary texts on ecology in the context of the Russian and Soviet empire. These texts are meant to become a valuable tool for familiarizing students and scholars with lines of ecological thought in Russia and making key texts available for an international public.
Interested in further activities within the network?
If you want to find out more about our activities within the network over the next two years? Here, we provide you with updates about what our working groups, members and the network as a whole are working on:
Workshop: Crossing Boundaries
Together with his colleague Helena Holzberger (LMU Munich), Russian Ecospheres member Timm Schönfelder is organizing a workshop titled “Crossing Boundaries. Human-Animal Relations from Post-Petrine Russia to the Soviet State (1725–1991)“.
The workshop will take place on sight in Leipzig from 29th till 30th of June 2023.
Motivation of analyzing human-animal relations
“The study of human-animal relations is one of the most promising fields in historiography. The workshop will take a longue durée-perspective on the interplay of human and nonhuman actors that ranges from post-Petrine Russia to the fall of the Soviet Union. During the past three decades, it has evolved from animal activism to a highly theorized endeavor that tries to re-situate nonhuman species in societal contexts.” – Timm Schönfelder
With regards to the theoretical and methodological tools of the thriving field of human-animal studies, it is necessary to re-evaluate established narratives of internal colonization (as in the example of the fur trade), culturalization (e.g., in pet-keeping and the emergence of livestock farming), and conflicting agency (as in the rather macabre tales of polar bears and Arctic explorers).
What is more, in light of the lasting inaccessibility of Russian archives, this widened perspective allows alternative avenues and opportunities in finding and interpreting historical sources. Thus, the workshop aims at bringing together scholars from such varying backgrounds like environmental, social and cultural history with the goal of producing a peer-reviewed special journal issue that delivers new approaches to an old relationship.
Preliminary topics for the workshop
Possible contributions may include, but are not limited to, the following topics:
- Human-animal encounters in contexts of imperial expansion
- Trans-species agency and processes of culturalization
- Commodification of animals from proto-capitalist to socialist economies
- Food cultures in transition and the industrialization of animals
- Human and nonhuman animals in gendered relations of power
Interested in contributing or taking part?
The workshop will focus on developing publications for the field, which is why the coordinators are looking forward to contributions with a spatial scope from western Russia to the Pacific Ocean, and from the steppes of Central Asia to the ice shelves of the Arctic Circle.
The call for papers ends at the 10th of March, 2023. You will be notified by early April regarding acceptance. If interested, please inform yourself here:
Reading Group: Cybernetic Ecology
Within the network a reading group on cybernetic ecology has been formed which will start its activities in spring 2023.
The reading group will discuss post-war theories of cybernetic ecology (e.g. by Howard and Eugene Odum, Gregory Bateson, Ramon Margalef) and its Soviet reception, theories of cybernetic modelling of ecosystems such as forests or waters, the ecologization of life sciences, modelling of ecological crisis (Soviet Earth-Systems-Science, Climate Change, etc.) and artistic responses to cybernetic ecology.
The reading list of the group will be made available online.
Possibility of joint discussion:
Interested participants are invited to join us and can register with Russian Ecospheres’ coordinator Clemens Günther via firstname.lastname@example.org.
The dates of the sessions will be posted online, the first session will be held on February 27th, 7pm (Berlin local time).
At the “Slavistik-Tag” Bochum, a congress of German Slavicists at the 22nd October 2022, our network organized two panels under the title “Spheres of Ecological Knowledge in Russian Culture and History”. While the first one was dedicated to a discussion of our research agenda with external panelists, the second panel included presentations of our own research.
In the first panel, three discussants commented on the perspectives and risks of our research agenda:
In her contribution “Ecorealism? Back to Reality on Behalf of Ecology” (orig.: “Ecorealism? Zurück zur Realität im Zeichen der Ökologie”), Susanne Strätling (Professor of Comparative Literature, FU Berlin) discussed the importance of literature as a form of ecological knowledge. Referring to Will Slocombe, Strätling emphasized ecocriticism as a discursive countermovement against linguistic constructivism, relativism and nihilism. Since ecological thinking about literature offers new approaches to reality, Strätling proposed the term “Ecorealism” for further debates, particularly aimed at Russian and Soviet traditions of factography and documentary aesthetics of ecological catastrophes.
In the second response “The Environment of Cultural and Literary Animal Studies”, Nadine Menzel (Research Associate, Leipzig University) pointed to the intersections of ecocriticism and a neighboring field of study, not merely in their topological focus on spaces of cohabitation such as the forest and the steppe. While the ecological perspective focuses on environments and spheres, animal studies advocate the particular, the “small” entities within larger environments. With exemplary discussions of the intermediate spaces between wilderness and civilization in Chekhov and Tolstoy’s theory of violence from a human-animal perspective, Menzel demonstrated how ecocritical readings might profit from zoological perspectives
The panel’s third discussant, Robert Kindler (Professor for Eastern European History, Institute for East European Studies, FU Berlin), looked at “Russian Ecospheres” from the viewpoint of (global) history. Kindler raised the question whether a decolonial perspective on “Ecospheres” was possible, one that would avoid imperial pitfalls of an assumed universal competence of historians of Eastern Europe. For further explorations, Kindler pleaded to overcome a widespread north-centric approach to global history (directed against the global south) and to include more disciplines and indigenous voices on ecology: local history (or kraevedenie), ethnology, and anthropology
The second panel gathered presentations from the network members’ individual research on planetary knowledge in Russian modernism:
Clemens Günther gave a synopsis of imaginations of climate capsules in science-fiction texts of Russian symbolism and discussed their relationship with contemporary discourses of habitability (Chakrabarty).
Philipp Kohl looked into the poetological aspects of planetary time in Mikhail Prishvin’s prose in the 1920s and 1930s and his reception of Vladimir Vernadskii’s theory of the biosphere
Tatjana Petzer’s talk on Vladimir Vernadskii’s concept of autotrophy and its fictional representations had to be cancelled and will hopefully form part of a future meeting. The discussion revolved around questions about specific literary forms of ecological knowledge (drama, production novel, diary) and their relationship with the “outside of the text” – be it symbolic, realistic, or factographic.
Responsible für the content after § 55 ABS. 2 RSTV
Dr. Clemens Günther
Freie Universität Berlin
Eastern Europe Institute (OEI)
Tel. +49 30 83861010
Dr. Philipp Kohl
Faculty for language and literature studies
Department II – Slavic Philology
Tel. +49 (0)89 2180-3824
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Georgy S. Levit
Scientific Associate of Didactics of Biology at Friedrich Schiller University, Jena
After conducting research on marine environment in Oldenburg and on the history of science, medicine and technolgoy as well as biodidactics in Jena, Georgy Levit was an assistant professor of the history of science and technology at the University of King’s College in Halifax. Since then, he has worked at faculties of economics and environmental management in Russia and started to research for different institutions from 2014 on.
- History and philosophy of biology, biogeochemistry and geophysiology
- Alternative (non- and anti-Darwinian) evolutionary theories in the 20th century
- (History and Philosophy of) Russian and German evolutionary biology
- Evolutionary approaches in social sciences (evolutionary economics, biopolitics
- History of veterinary science, food science and of totalitarian regimes
Motivation as a part of the network:
Publications linked to the network:
- “Self-Organization Meets Evolution: Ernst Haeckel and Abiogenesis” . In book: Self-Organization as a New Paradigm in Evolutionary Biology (pp.11-32) [together with U. Hossfeld]
- “Russia’s new Lysenkoism”. Current Biology Vol. 27 No. 16. [together with E. Kolchinsky, U. Kutschera & U. Hossfeld]